Amtrak, the only passenger national railroad in the U.S., is making a comeback, and appears well on its way to meeting its Congressional mandate of needing zero federal operating subsidies by 2002.
The railroad received an interim boost from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The organization passed a resolution calling on Congress to provide Amtrak with adequate capital investment funds and to provide states with the flexibility to use federal transportation funds for intercity passenger rail.
“Amtrak praises the U.S. Conference of Mayors for its leadership on this vital transportation policy issue,” said George Warrington, Amtrak’s president and chief executive officer. “Cities and towns are sending a signal to Washington that intercity passenger rail must play a key role in solving air and road congestion, and in driving economic development.”
Amtrak’s new Acela high-speed service from Boston to Washington, D.C., is also on track for a fall start date. New trainsets are being built and will be maintained by a consortium led by Bombardier and Alstom. A new onboard fare collection and passenger tracking system will also be launched with Acela’s start, further increasing operating efficiencies and passenger convenience.
Amtrak and the Administration have requested $571 million in capital funds for Amtrak for fiscal year 2000 as part of the Transportation Appropriations bill. Both Congressional Appropriations committees have approved full funding for Amtrak, and approval by the full House and Senate is expected this fall.
The mayors are also calling on Congress to enact a measure that would grant states the flexibility to invest National Highway System (NHS), Surface Transportation Project (STP) and Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality (CMAQ) funds contained in the highway portion of the Transportation Efficiency Act (TEA-21) for intercity passenger rail and the development of high-speed rail corridors. States are currently prohibited from using these federal funds this way.
A bigger story, however, is the level of state and local support given Amtrak. In the past three years, states and cities have contributed more than a half-billion state dollars for joint capital projects with Amtrak, with $300 million this year alone. This demonstrates the growing desire of states to choose rail as a transportation solution and Amtrak as their partner. Forming investment partnerships with states, localities and businesses is one of five major strategies of Amtrak’s business plan.
For example, this past month, Amtrak and the State of Oklahoma celebrated the inaugural run of the Heartland Flyer, returning passenger rail service to the citizens of Oklahoma for the first time in 20 years. “More than 5,000 Oklahoma and North Texas residents turned out last week to welcome the new Amtrak service during its inaugural run from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Neal McCaleb. “Nearly 700 guests, including federal, state and local officials, were on board to bring back this important and celebrated service to Oklahoma. Strong support of passengers and community partners like this is necessary to expand this service and keep it in Oklahoma for many generations to come. All Oklahomans can be proud of this service. Every seat is a first class seat.”
“I am pleased about the enthusiastic response by Oklahomans to the new passenger rail service,” said Oklahoma Senator Don Nickels. “After a 20-year absence from the state, during which time Oklahomans paid almost $200 million in taxes into the Amtrak system, I am pleased the state is once again part of the national rail network and getting something for its money. I hope Oklahomans will continue to take advantage of this new resource and that the route will be successful.”
In 1998, Amtrak passenger revenues surpassed $1 billion for the first time ever powered by the largest ridership increase in a decade, for a total of more than 21 million customers and the best on-time performance in 13 years. As part of its turnaround, Amtrak is focusing on growing public and private business partnerships, improving and guaranteeing consistency and quality of service, introducing high-speed rail in the Northeast this year, and developing other high-speed rail corridors nationwide.
For more information about Amtrak, visit its Website at www.amtrak.com.